Mindful Eating: Open Your Mind Before You Open Your Mouth Articles

Yoga Mat for Your Mouth

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

9781572245433Yoga is union. Mindful eating is also yoga — in the sense that eating unites your body and mind’s intention through a moment of eating presence. Create an eating mindfulness placemat that you could carry with you like a yoga mat, from table to table, from setting to setting, whether you are eating in or eating out, as a kind of portable eating mindfulness space of your own.

Sketch out a placemat that includes a visual diagram of mindful eating. For example, draw a picture of the eyes to denote the mindfulness of the appearance of food, with an arrow pointing to a nose for the mindfulness of smell, with an arrow pointing to a picture of the tongue for the mindfulness of taste, with an arrow pointing back to your mind (to remember to “open your mind before you open your mouth”).

Or, to awaken the eating zombie, include mindfulness call-outs to get your own attention, such as:

“Eating is Movement, Pause the Flow!”
“Redefine “Enough” – Mindful, not Mouthful!”
“Mindful Eating is Self-Synchronization”
“Eating is physiologically inevitable, but mindfulness isn’t – wake up!”
“Who’s eating?”

You can also include various pointers on craving control, fullness, process of eating. If you have already formulated your Philosophy of Eating, you can summarize it on the placemat as well (“Eat to live, not live to eat!” or “Eating changes both body and mind, the total of who I am. What I eat and how much I eat changes who I am physiologically. Why I eat and how I eat changes who I am psychologically.”)

9781608821013Your mindful eating placemat can also include mindful emotional eating harm-reduction tips on how to shift from mindless emotional overeating to responsible emotional eating such as “when eating to cope with emotions, remember that emotional eating does not have to mean emotional overeating.”

Or you can “Photoshop” pictures of your children whose well-being, in part, depends on your modeling of healthy eating habits. Get creative and laminate the results. Feel free to email me a picture of your mindful eating placemat. I’ll …

Slow Emotional Eating

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

MeeSlow eating is when you try to eat slowly. Slow eating is a form of mindful eating. It is relaxing, it is self-soothing, it is self-indulgent. You take your time. You put the utensils down in between the bites. You look around and sip wine as you go. You enjoy a good view and good company.

Slow Emotional Eating (SEE), to coin a term, is when you make a conscious choice to eat to cope and you incorporate the slow-eating-know-how. Typically, stress eating is rushed. You feel like you can’t wait to relax so you inhale whatever is in front of you and then you are done. But you don’t feel done – you ate too fast. Maybe you feel a little better, but you want more time with this pacifier. And that’s where slow eating naturally comes in. The following is a list of slow emotional eating suggestions to leverage the most coping per calorie:

  • Give yourself the permission to cope by eating.
  • Start with a few humful breaths as the first course.
  • Allow yourself to indulge on quality not quantity: Eat only what you want to eat, no point in compromising a moment of self- indulgence.
  • Take your time: Set an alarm clock for at least ten or twenty minutes and claim this entire eating time as yours.
  • If possible, get some company (but agree to focus on food and not turn this slow emotional eating into a therapy session).
  • If possible, find a place with a view: If necessary, bundle up so that you can sit on outside or just drag your chair up to the window.
  • Use some choice awareness or pattern interruption tricks to keep your mind awake: for example, try a non-dominant hand or wrong or unfamiliar utensils to slow down the hand-to-mouth mechanics.
  • Make a point to put down the utensils.
  • Make a point to catch your breath in between the mouthfuls and mindfuls.
  • Take a few moments to deconstruct your eating into tasting, savoring and actual eating (see Eating the Moment, Somov 2008 for details).
  • Give yourself the permission not to finish anything, you don’t have …

Beyond Eating, Beyond Money

Monday, January 12th, 2015

energyDostoyevsky once described money as “coined liberty” (1915, 16). Indeed, money is independence. But what is money?

All money is reducible to one and the same currency: energy. That’s what flows through us, what moves us, and what motivates us. Money energizes because money is energy. The American greenback is a symbolic leaf of life: It starts out as a banknote of photosynthesis and is metabolized time and again through the samsaric mill of metabolic reincarnations until it transmutes into a living leaf of informational and symbolic value that is redeemable for energy. Currency is literally a current — a current of energy trade. As such, money is a fundamentally heterotrophic invention. Money is an exchange of borrowed calories by those who didn’t produce them in the first place. Autotrophs, the energy generators, have no need for money. Plants, unlike animals, are fundamentally and inalienably democratic and energy-independent. Each blade of grass has more sovereignty than any human nation. A blade of grass depends on nothing for its metabolic needs except abundant sun, air, water, and minerals. Each blade of grass is a dominion unto itself. It needs not ask, beg, buy, or trade. It is sovereign.

And so shall Homo solaris be. Reliant on the commons of sun, air, water, and minerals for physiological needs, Homo solaris will be beyond money and thus beyond the corruption of money and therefore fundamentally sovereign and inalienably free.

In his book Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, Richard Fortey reminisces about the photosynthetic Eden of Precambrian time: “Cellularity had become a food chain, gobbling began, and voracity has never gone away. If there were a point in history at which Tennyson’s famous phrase ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’ could be said first to apply, this was it… The era of photosynthetic passivity and peaceful coexistence…had passed from the Earth, and the hierarchy of power has never subsequently been forgotten” (1998, 92-93). He’s absolutely right: Heterotrophy is fundamentally hierarchical. Human photosynthesis, through “techno-organic evolution,” wouldn’t have to mean passivity, but it certainly can mean peaceful …

Sublimating the Binge Eating, Self-Restricting Roller Coaster

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

[adapted from Mindful Emotional Eating (Somov, 2014)]


Differentiating a binge from emotional eating or emotional overeating is both hard and simple. Hard if you go a quantitative route, if you count calories. Easy if you go a qualitative route, if you factor in the emotional mandate of these two types of eating. I’ll take the easy path here. The subjective goal of emotional eating is to feel better. The subjective goal of binge eating is not to feel at all (i.e. to numb out, to disassociate somewhat or entirely). What this means is that binge-eating cannot be made mindful. Binge eating is a desire for mindlessness.

Another aspect of binge-eating that might or might not be generally true, but usually is, is that binge eaters are at least partial restrictors. What this means is that they try to compensate for overeating by undereating. In this they begin to approximate the dynamics of bulimia, minus such explicit compensatory behaviors such as purging, over-exercising, or using laxatives. This compensatory tendency of binge-eaters will come in handy when we try to sublimate this eating roller-coaster. You’ll just have to read on to get a better sense of what I mean by “handy.”

Three Approaches to Managing Binge-Eating

As I clinically see it, there are three approaches to managing binge-eating. One is common but impotent – that is an advice of abstinence.

The second one is much less common – it’s an approach of harm reduction. Think of it as down-shifting a binge to plain ol’ emotional overeating.  (I have described this approach in my 2008 book Eating the Moment; Linda Craighead, in her 2006 book Appetite Awareness Workbook, offers a similar approach).

The third approach is essentially unknown – it’s a path of sublimation.  (This approach, to my knowledge, is unique to my clinical practice and I have described it step by step in my recent book, Mindful Emotional Eating, in Chapter 9.)

Clinical Non-Doing & Attitudinal Harm Reduction

Sometimes clients are ready to change and sometimes they are …

It’s Time We “Legalize” Emotional Eating

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

MeeMindful Emotional Eating (MEE) has been nearly a taboo both in self- help and clinical literature on emotional eating. I first wrote about mindful emotional eating in Eating the Moment in 2008 and have had a chance to pilot this material clinically in my practice and through a series of workshops for mental health professionals.

My experience reveals that while the idea of mindful emotional eating makes a lot of sense to my clients, surprisingly, the mental health professionals often bristle with objections, barricading behind the all-or-nothing belief that any emotional eating is self- destructive and to be avoided at all costs. These clinicians say that they are afraid to “enable” their clients. By that they mean that they don’t want to “join in” or “to collude” in the “clearly self-destructive” behavior of emotional eating. Not so: emotional eating is not self-destructive. Emotional eating is self-care. Dare to “enable” your client’s self-care.

A humanistic clinician operates on the following two assumptions:

• He/she takes it as a given that we are always pursuing wellbeing; I call this “motivational innocence.”

• He/she takes it as a given that we are always doing our coping best (even if it doesn’t seem so to an uninformed mind of an observer). I call this “ordinary perfection.”

With this in mind, a humanistic clinician doesn’t believe in self-destructive behavior. All behavior is seen as a motivationally innocent attempt at self-regulation, i.e. as homeostatic. A humanistic clinician’s role is not to uninstall the coping that already works somewhat but to help upgrade clients’ coping software, to help clients optimize their coping.

Self-destructiveness is a psychological myth. The method I that use in my practice and propose in my new book, Mindful Emotional Eating, is a direct challenge to the all-too-common clinical position that pathologizes emotional eating and offers emotional eaters nothing more than a psychological diet of abstinence from emotional eating. More than ever before, I am convinced that as a culture and a civilization we have to begin to re-integrate emotional eating back into our eating lives. It is …

Mindful Emotional Eating

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

MeeHere are some early reviews of my new book on Mindful Emotional Eating.

“Don t be fooled by the seeming contradiction in the title of Mindful Emotional Eating. The book makes the case to troubled eaters and their treaters that if we re going to turn to food when we re stressed or distressed, we best do it not with guilt, shame, self-hatred, or detachment from our bodies and their cravings, but with a keen mindfulness that will satisfy our appetites and foster emotional well-being.” –Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., psychotherapist, eating coach, and author of Outsmarting Overeating.

“This wonderfully creative book teaches us that we don’t need willpower to overcome our unruly eating habits, but mindfulness skill power. It shows that freedom doesn’t come from stopping emotional eating, but when we learn how to eat emotionally in moderation, more effectively and without self-judgement or self-loafing. Pavel Somov has put together a fun mindfulness toolbox for not only healthcare professionals, but anyone who struggles with emotional eating.” –Alexa Frey, Co-Founder, The Mindfulness Project, London

Pavel’s Mindful Emotional Eating is a gem of a toolkit that will be invaluable both to individuals seeking a mindful eating self-help option and to practitioners looking to infuse more mindfulness into their work…” –foreword by Linda Craighead, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology & Director of Clinical training, Emory University, author of The Appetite Awareness Workbook.

“Dr. Pavel Somov’s newest book, Mindful Emotional Eating, offers individuals struggling with eating concerns a revolutionary guidebook for developing a satisfying, enjoyable relationship to food. The book challenges prevailing notions by de-pathologizing emotional eating and affirms that emotional eating is one among many ways that we can care for ourselves. His humanistic harm reduction approach helps people shift from demonizing emotional eating to affirming that we all eat for emotional reasons. The positive change we seek is from mindless to mindful moderate emotional eating. His mindful emotional eating (MEE) process is the antidote to the shame, blame, self-attacks and rebellious over-eating that characterize mindless emotional eating. MEE empathizes with people s need to self-soothe and empowers people to …

Info-Processing View of Eating

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

shutterstock_65649088We tend to think of metabolism in purely physiological terms. I invite you to think of metabolism in a broader sense, as information processing. Take the act of eating, for example. We can think of eating in purely physiological, metabolic terms… or we can think of eating as an informational process in which an act of tasting is an act of knowing. I describe this info-experiential view of eating in Reinventing the Meal.

Here’s a similar perspective from Dr. Hari Sharma, MD, a Western trained proponent of ancient Vedic approaches to healing:

“When the taste receptors first experience the different taste and textural properties of a meal, an enormous amount of information is delivered through the body (primarily through the limbic system), triggering basic metabolic processes.”

“The body eventually metabolizes the molecular constituents of the food, but it first metabolizes the sensory experience of taste.”

“Long before the food is digested, its influence has spread throughout the body. A delicious meal is more than a treat; the taste can be nourishing in itself.”

“The body metabolizes the emotional content of every experience that it has,” writes Dr. Sharma. And that includes the experience of taste.

In sum, to taste is to experience, to experience is to feel, and to feel is to know.

Metabolize that!

Strawberry tasting image available from Shutterstock.

Eating Sun

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

“What is the future of eating?” is the question that I tried to answer in “Reinventing the Meal” (2012)

Transhuman Fermentation

Still a cultural underground, transhumanism is a gradual churning of techno-genetic possibilities. As a social movement, transhumanism is still in the stages of fermentation. From the evolutionary standpoint, transhumanism is an attempt at self-guided evolution, a project of customizing the body to meet the needs of the mind.

But what does the mind fundamentally need from the body? Faster information processing would be nice. An extended health span would be nifty. Who wouldn’t like faster legs, sharper vision, or more acute hearing? Heck, having a functional pair of wings wouldn’t hurt either. Top all of this off with bulletproof skin, and it might seem as though this human dream of functional augmentation was complete. But it isn’t. It’s lacking the most fundamental piece: greater metabolic independence. Indeed, what minds seem to really like is sovereignty. And sovereignty is synonymous with greater energy independence. Of course, all metabolic independence is relative. No life is ultimately independent of its environment.

As I see it, a transhuman project of metabolic independence could take one of two general paths: that of direct human photosynthesis at a cellular level (let’s call it the path of Homo solaris) or the path of the Energizer Bunny. The former is a path of genetic modification and perhaps surgical augmentation or a wholesale nanosurgical alteration on a cellular level. The latter path might involve some sort of “future skin,” a kind of biotech chimera project of swapping elastic solar panels for patches of skin. The specifics are beyond me. In fact, it’s likely that there are solutions that lie beyond the capacity of my imagination. But one thing seems clear to me: Whether motivated by compassion (for the life that we consume) or by self-determination, we will—if we are fortunate to survive as a civilization—seek greater energy autonomy on an individual basis.

There can be a tendency to see transhumanism as a loss of humanity. It certainly may be. But it’s also possible to view transhumanism as an amplification of humanity—as the extension of our essence and …

Mindful Emotional Eating – a Humanistic Harm Reduction Approach

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

MeeHere’s a question that’s a lot on my clinical mind: “What do clients want and how do I help them get what they want?” This very question is at the core of humanistic harm reduction (HHR).

When my client presents with concerns about “emotional eating,” I ask myself the same question. When you, as a clinician, get in the habit of asking yourself this question, the answer becomes rather self-evident. What emotional eating clients want is obvious: they want to eat when they feel bad and they don’t want to feel bad about eating. They want to feel in control during this coping, self-soothing episode (both during and after emotional eating). But they have come to believe that eating to cope and feeling in control are somehow mutually exclusive.

Not so! We can help our clients have exactly what they want. Yes, they can eat to cope and, yes, they can feel in control (both during and after the emotional eating episode). How? With the help of mindful emotional eating (MEE).

Mindful emotional eating satisfies two self-regulation fantasies: To eat and to feel in control. Mindful emotional eating allows your client to pursue change without sacrificing what they want. To clarify, I am not talking about emotional eating. I’m talking about mindful emotional eating.

The book that I have coming out later this fall is not about how to stop emotional eating but about how to eat emotionally in moderation, more effectively, and without self-judgment and self-loathing. Here’s the table of contents for the upcoming book on mindful emotional eating to give you a better sense of what it’s about.  If you are a clinician and you are interested in reviewing this book, you can contact me at www.pavelsomov.com

Table of Contents

Foreword by Linda Craighead, Ph.D., author of Appetite Awareness Workbook

Part I: Short Term Mindful Emotional Eating (MEE)

Chapter 1:      Opening the Mind

Chapter 2:      Emptying the Mind

Chapter 3:      Waking Up the Mind & Keeping It Awake

Chapter 4:      Not Minding the Mind

Chapter 5:      Programmatic Notes: Packaging MEE

Chapter 6:      Ego-friendly, Humanistic, Nonperfectionistic Homework

Part II: Long Term MEE

Chapter 7:      Ordinary Perfection: Leveraging …

Mindful Emotional Eating

Monday, September 8th, 2014

MeeI have another book coming out later this fall – on mindful emotional eating (not on emotional eating or on mindful eating, but on how to make emotional eating mindful).  Here’s a foreword for this book from Linda Craighead, the author of Appetite Awareness Training who championed the idea of effective emotional eating.  If you are a clinician and are interested in writing a review/blurb for the book, please, contact me through my book site: www.pavelsomov.com

Foreword from Linda Craighead:

Pavel’s book on Mindful Emotional Eating is a gem of a toolkit that will be invaluable both to individuals seeking a mindful eating self-help option and to practitioners looking to infuse more mindfulness into their work with clients distressed by emotional eating. Pavel’s Humanistic Harm Reduction approach is a breath of fresh air on a topic that is particularly difficult to address sanely in the current culture. Obesity has become a “hot “ topic; it threatens the health of the next generation and will bankrupt our health care system if we cannot find a better way to come to terms with the inherent double bind society has created. Food is engineered to appeal directly to our biologically-based preferences for sugar and fat and food is more accessible than ever before. We are subjected to an overload of advertising with the messages “Indulge yourself- you deserve it” and “ More is better”. A “tall” is the smallest option even available at Starbucks. Marketers appear to believe that small or medium sounds so negative that only a fool would want such an option. If food portions are all “above average”, our weight will also be above average.

Under the current circumstances, no knowledgable person is surprised by the increase in obesity but short of invoking a food police state, a viable solution remains elusive. Substantial long-term weight loss for those who are already obese requires nothing less than a lifestyle makeover that must be maintained forever, and only the most motivated individuals have been able to do this successfully. Many experts in the field have essentially given up on …

Select books by Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.:
Mindful Emotional Eating Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment

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